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Defining Future Seafloor Mapping Priorities to Inform Shallow Coral Reef Management

This project began in October 2020 and will be completed September 2023.

NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) uses benthic mapping data to develop information on the condition of coral reef ecosystems to help inform science-based management decisions. They have identified a need to conduct a mapping data prioritization in shallow, coral reef areas within 0–40 meters within all seven U.S. coral reef management jurisdictions (Figure 1). Results from this project will enable CRCP and partnering management agencies to identify priority locations for improved benthic mapping data.

Why We Care
Spatial information about the seafloor is critical for environmental decision-making by coastal management organizations. Coordination among local managers and researchers is needed to avoid duplicating efforts, raise awareness of available mapping data, and target new collections for the highest priority locations. The information provided by participants is an initial step that will help inform research and monitoring activities to address management needs and maximize opportunities to leverage and complement existing regional efforts.

CRCP has partnered with NCCOS to conduct a comprehensive, shallow-water gap analysis within all seven U.S. shallow coral reef areas. NCCOS will lead a mapping prioritization effort and data inventory to 1) identify availability of existing data and products and 2) identify priority locations and approaches for future data products. Coordination among local research and management organizations will help to efficiently leverage resources to map and explore seafloor areas in support of their individual objectives, mandates, and missions.

What We Propose to Do
From FY21–23 NCCOS will build a digital inventory of relevant shallow water (up to 40 m) mapping datasets and conduct a data needs assessment for each of the CRCP jurisdictions: Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii, Florida, Guam, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. In FY21, mapping priorities were completed for shallow coral reef areas surrounding Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Florida.

In FY22, this effort will focus on waters surrounding the main Hawaiian Islands. Results from completed jurisdictions can be viewed and downloaded on the project’s online hub.

Map of the seven US coral reef management jurisdictional areas. A separate prioritization effort will be conducted in each region over the course of the three-year project.

Figure 1: Map of the seven US coral reef management jurisdictional areas. A separate prioritization effort will be conducted in each region over the course of the three-year project.

To identify priority areas within each jurisdiction, the researchers will use a spatial framework and participatory online tool to solicit input from select local participants (Figure 2). Using methods similar to prioritization efforts elsewhere in the U.S. (i.e., West CONUS Coast, U.S. Caribbean, and Southeast U.S.), the team will combine input to identify areas of high priority for collecting contemporary, high-quality mapping data. Ultimately, this will provide CRCP and local managers with a detailed framework for future mapping management needs to protect, conserve, and restore the nation’s coral reefs. The focus of this effort will support CRCP’s four main pillars of work established to:

      • Increase resilience to climate change,
      • Reduce land-based sources of pollution,
      • Improve fisheries’ sustainability, and
      • Restore viable coral populations.

Benefits of Our Work
CRCP has expressly identified the need to create a mapping data inventory and provide a needs-based framework for future mapping efforts within shallow coral reef areas. Results from this project will benefit local jurisdictional communities, resource agencies, and other participating organizations by: (1) identifying regions of overlapping data needs, (2) promoting coordination among participating organizations, and (3) enabling partners to leverage resources to fill their most pressing data needs and information gaps.

Figure 2: Example of the online tool used to identify seafloor mapping priorities in the U.S. Caribbean. Each cell can be selected and populated with virtual "coins" based on the participants' data needs. The tool also allows the participant to input a justification for why those cells were selected, as well as specific data product needs. Credit: NOAA NCCOS.

Additional Resources

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Products, Datasets & Reports


Webinar Recordings


Related Links

Coral Reef Conservation Program

  1. NOAA CRCP Home Page
  2. NOAA CRCP Program Areas (Four Pillars)

Previous Prioritization Efforts

  1. Southeast Atlantic Spatial Prioritization Data Viewer (2020)
  2. Florida Coastal Mapping Program Prioritization Data (2019)
  3. Prioritizing Areas for Future Seafloor Mapping, Research, and Exploration in the U.S. Caribbean (2019)
  4. Prioritizing Areas for Future Seafloor Mapping, Research, and Exploration Offshore of California, Oregon, and Washington (2019)
  5. Prioritizing Seafloor Mapping for Washington’s Pacific Coast (2017)
  6. California Mapping Initiative Identifies Priority Areas of Seafloor (2017)
  7. Prioritizing Sites for Coral Reef Conservation in the U.S. Virgin Islands (2016)

 Mapping Prioritization Resources

  1. Spatial Prioritization Widget for Web AppBuilder
  2. Spatially Prioritizing Seafloor Mapping for Coastal and Marine Planning
  3. Where, What, When, and Why Is Bottom Mapping Needed? An Online Application to Set Priorities Using Expert Opinion
  4. Spatial Prioritization Widget: A Tool to Identify Mapping
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